Terr (1991), in an article published in the American Journal Of Psychiatry, proposes three classifications of trauma. These are as follows :

Terr’s 3 Ways To Classify Trauma :

  1. ACUTE TRAUMA (Type I Trauma)
  2. COMPLEX TRAUMA (Type II Trauma)

Below, I briefly define and provide examples of these three classifications of trauma :

  1. ACUTE TRAUMA (Type I Trauma): this results from an individual being exposed to a single, overwhelming traumatic event such as the death of a parent during one’s childhood. According to Terr, chief characteristics of acute trauma include detailed memories relating to the traumatic event, an exaggerated startle response, hypervigilance, emotional overreactions, and misperceptions.
  2. COMPLEX TRAUMA (Type II Trauma): this results from protracted exposure to traumatizing situations and events such as years of emotional abuse by one’s parents during childhood. According to Terr, chief characteristics of complex trauma include dissociation, psychological numbing, rage, social withdrawal, and a sense of a foreshortened future.
  3. CROSSOVER TRAUMA (Type III Trauma): like acute trauma (see above), crossover trauma also results from a single, overwhelming event; however, in the case of crossover trauma, the traumatic event is so devastating that the adverse psychological effects of the trauma are long-term. An example of this type of trauma is being involved in a car crash in which other family members are killed. Terr states that chief characteristics of crossover trauma include extended mourning/depression, chronic pain,  sleep disturbances (such as insomnia and nightmares), difficulties concentrating, and irritability.

The above forms of trauma are types of DIRECT traumatic experience. However, it is also possible to experience trauma INDIRECTLY. The indirect experience of trauma is also sometimes referred to as SECONDARY TRAUMA or VICARIOUS TRAUMA :

What Is Meant By Secondary / Vicarious Trauma, Who Does It Affect And What Are The Symptoms?

This can affect professionals who work with traumatized individuals and refers to the adverse psychological consequences that might be suffered by such professionals as a result of such work – this is also sometimes referred to as compassion fatigue; symptoms of compassion fatigue include exhaustion, emotional numbness, withdrawal and poor concentration (all of which may impair work performance). Professionals who work with traumatized individuals and who have little support or have suffered significant trauma in their own lives are especially at risk of developing secondary trauma / vicarious trauma/compassion fatigue.


Childhood Trauma And Its Link To Complex PTSD. 

Click the image below for further information:



David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).